June 2, 2006
Elegant Trogon
Elegant Trogon
If you're ready to take your new pursuit of birds beyond central Arizona, if you've purchased A Birder's Guide to Southeastern Arizona by Richard Taylor but can't decide which of the many hotspots in the "sky islands" of southern Arizona to visit first, let me make a suggestion.  Madera Canyon.

Part of Coronado National Forest, Madera Creek originates near 9,453 foot Mt. Wrightson and tumbles through pine/oak woods and granite outcrops toward the high desert far below.  A single road winds for six miles along the creek to the upper canyon trailheads, past a small campground, two picnic areas, two bed and breakfasts and a lodge with rental cabins.

Despite its length and cathedral vistas out over the broad Santa Cruz River valley, Madera Canyon's trails are small, intimate chapels filled with the song, shape, and color of south-of-the-border species that reach the northern apogee of their breeding range in Arizona and attract birders from all over the world.  And Madera is only an hour south of Tucson.

You can bird Madera in a weekend, but once you're hooked on looking for the world's smallest owl (elf), our most beautiful warbler (painted redstart), and the Holy Grail of North American birders (elegant trogon), you're going to wish you had all summer.

On your first day, arrive early at the Proctor Road Parking Area and watch sunrise suffuse Elephant Head, the spectacular pinnacle to the south, with gold as the rest of the Santa Ritas slumber in shadow.  Leave your vehicle and walk upcanyon along the paved and bridged footpath.  Searching for broad-billed hummingbird, Arizona woodpecker, flame-colored tanager, and Scott's oriole will probably preclude your goal of covering the four miles to the Round-up Picnic Area by lunchtime.

At sunrise on your second day park at Round-up and hike up the Vault Mine Trail.  This is a steep, rocky scramble up the Hopkins Fork of Madera Creek through the heart of trogon habitat.  How can a long-tailed parrot-sized bird, neon green over bright red, which barks like a dog, flies like a drunken woodpecker, and forages like a vireo on valium be so hard to find and see well?  Because there are probably only a couple pair in the whole canyon.  Sit on a rock by a quiet pool and see if one finds you.  Magnificent hummingbird, sulphur-bellied flycatcher, and red-faced warbler should be adequate compensation if you miss the trogon.

In case you haven't been keeping score, I've mentioned ten species--just a few of the panoply of Arizona's special species--species found only here or much more easily here than in any other state--that breed in Madera Canyon.  Remember, it's only an hour south of Tucson.  Go now before the monsoons start.

From Tucson go south on I-19 to Exit 63, the Continential exit.  Turn east under the Interstate to White House Canyon Road, about a mile, and follow the signs to Madera Canyon Recreation Area.  At the Proctor Road entrance kiosk there is a $5/day fee.  If the kiosk is closed, there are self service pay stations at all the parking areas.

Bog Springs Campground--$10/night
Santa Rita Lodge--520-625-8746--santaritalodge.com
Madera Kubo Bed & Breakfast--520-625-2908--maderakubo.com

Chuparosa Inn--520-393-7370--chuparosainn.com